(director/writer: Paul Fejos; screenwriters: story by Mann Page/ Edward T. Lowe Jr./Tom Reed; cinematographer: Gilbert Warrenton; editor: Frank Atkinson; cast: Glenn Tryon (Jim), Barbara Kent (Mary), Andy Devine (Jim’s Friend), Eddie Phillips (The sport on the bus), Fay Holderness (overdressed woman on roller coaster), Gustav Partos (Romantic gentleman on roller coaster); Runtime: 68; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; The Criterion Collection; 1928)

It’s perhaps the ultimate film in urban alienation.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Hungarian-born director Paul Fejos (“Spring Shower”/”Arsene Lupin’s Last Adventure”/”The Black Captain”) worked for a time in Hollywood and was also an explorer, anthropologist and doctor. This is a restored gem that was filmed as a silent but contains some awkward talking conversations. It’s perhaps the ultimate film in urban alienation, much like F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece Sunrise (1927). Fejos shows his love for the ordinary working class souls who find themselves alone in the bustling crowded big city of NY (most of it was actually filmed at the old Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles), trapped into living stressful robotic lives at work and confounded in their leisure time by the overwhelming pop culture.

Jim (Glenn Tryon) and Mary (Barbara Kent) are two young adults who live alone in the same boardinghouse hotel, but never met (very much a city thing!). They work at different jobs at the same location, where Mary’s a switchboard operator and factory worker Jim runs a punch press machine. They take the same packed rush-hour train to work and eat in the same busy restaurant. On the Fourth of July weekend, on a Saturday before the holiday, the two knock-off early in the afternoon and discover their workmates all have dates leaving them alone. When a noisy band passing in a van under their hotel windows advertizing a fun day at the beach seems tempting, both lonely souls take a bus to Coney Island. They spot each other on the bus as attractive prospects and at the beach Jim gets up enough nerve to introduce himself, and they end up going for a swim together. He tries to impress her that he’s a swell with a yacht and she plays along that she’s an elite. Soon they both tell their real occupations and seem relieved they no longer have to play such games. They stay at night to go to the lit-up amusement park, where they visit a fortune teller, take photographs at a booth, he tosses a ball to win a doll for her, they laugh at themselves in the fun-house mirror and stroll through the surging crowded confetti-strewn streets no longer feeling so lonesome. But they get separated taking the Jack Rabbit Racer roller coaster ride, and when Mary faints an oafish policeman won’t let Jim near her. When Jim gets upset, the cop arrests him for resisting arrest. Meanwhile Mary recovers and can’t find Jim. After the precinct sergeant releases Jim, he returns to the roller coaster ride but in the crowd can’t find his love. The next morning a despondent Jim is overjoyed to discover that Mary lives next door and the two embrace and hold onto to each other for dear life.

It’s based on three pages of an idea that Universal let Fejos have, after he discovered it hidden in their studio. The story is written by Mann Page, while the screenplay is turned in by Edward T. Lowe Jr., Tom Reed and Fejos. The beauty of the film is in its simple, sincere and affecting universal lyrical ode to love, that can make a grim mechanical life bearable for the sympathetic working stiffs.

The heartwarming film employs many innovative techniques from color tinting, a roving camera and the superimposition of effects, plus it mixes the best of experimental styles from Europe and America.

Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon in Lonesome (1928)